Bar News - July 6, 2007
State Budget Raises Civil Filing Fees
Judicial Staff BoostedIn the new biennial state government budget, there are a number of changes that will impact or improve aspects of life for those who use the courts.
Most civil case filing fees will increase by $30, although there will be no increase in small-claims or landlord-tenant filing costs, and criminal appeal fees will increase by only $5. (The increases combine a $25 surcharge added by the legislature as a general revenue raising measure and the remainder of the increases go to an escrow fund, managed by the Department of Administrative Services, to pay for improvements in court facilities, including changes needed to allow access to courts as provided by the Americans with Disabilities Act.)
Also, a $25 surcharge is being levied for each deed recorded, specifically to support the Land & Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP).
For the first time in many years, according to NH Supreme Court General Counsel Howard Zibel, who acts as liaison to the legislature for the judicial branch, the courts have received “more than maintenance” increase in their budget. Nineteen support positions were created, most in the Family Division, to provide additional help in the processing of cases and to provide case managers to assist litigants.
The court’s initial attempt to increase the number of judgeships in the hard-pressed Superior Court was rebuffed, but the legislature did authorize up to $200,000 per year to be spent to compensate retired judges to provide additional judge time in the courts.
Other legislation that has passed both chambers of the legislature will permit courts to provide notice of small claims actions via first-class mail instead of certified mail (at a substantial savings in postage); creation of an Office of Mediation & Arbitration that will enable the judicial branch to move forward in efforts to develop more alternative dispute options for litigants (the office will also coordinate ADR resources for administrative tribunals in state agencies in the executive branch). A Commission to Study Court Security Issues also has been established, which is due to report by the end of the fall of 2007.
Another bill that passed eliminates, except in emergency circumstances, creation of more special justice positions in the district courts. Zibel said that no existing judgeships will be eliminated, but the bill will enable the court system to gradually convert to a full-time judiciary for the district courts.
In the state’s new capital budget, funding is provided for the construction of a new Merrimack District Court, a supplemental appropriation for renovations to the Laconia District Court, and for asbestos abatement work on half of the Hillsborough County Superior Court North courthouse. (The remaining half of the building will have asbestos abatement completed as a later, separate project.) Design funding also was provided for the Cheshire County Superior Court.
The legislature also agreed to increase funding by $470,000 to fund an office in Concord for NH Legal assistance, and CASA received significant additional funding for its work.
The next Bar News will feature a roundup of legislative actions of interest to the legal community.